Triple Negative Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Mar 2 3:36pm | Megan Roessler M. Ed. | @meganroessler

Article contributed by Mayo Clinic staff Jane Brandhagen

March is dedicated to the patients and survivors of triple negative breast cancer (TNBC).  According to the American Cancer Society, TNBC accounts for 10 – 15% of all breast cancers and is more common in those under 40 years of age, who are Black, or who have a BRCA1 mutation.   The outcome for this type of breast cancer is worse because it tends to grow quickly, spreads faster, and the cancer cells are less likely to resemble normal healthy breast cells.  TNBC is  serious and requires more education, awareness, and an interest in finding new treatments as well as a cure.

TNBC is NOT fueled by hormones or HER2

Most breast cancers are fueled by estrogen and progesterone hormones that allow cancer cells to grow.  They can be treated with hormone therapy drugs that lower or block hormone receptors.  Some breast cancer cells are fueled by the human epidermal growth factor receptor protein, HER2.  By targeting cells that make too much HER2, targeted therapy drugs can be used to destroy cancer cells by sparing healthy cells.  There are fewer treatment options for TNBC because these cancer cells are not fueled by estrogen or progesterone, nor do they have enough HER2 for hormone therapy or targeted therapy drugs to be effective.

Current Treatment

Treatment often consists of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation.  Size and stage of the tumor will dictate the type of surgery and whether it will take place before or after chemotherapy.  Although TNBC tends to respond well to chemotherapy initially, it tends to recur more frequently than other types of breast cancers.

Looking Ahead

            Scientists are continually working on novel and better treatments for TNBC.  One such approach is combining chemotherapy with immunotherapy, a treatment that uses certain parts of the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.  There are also several ongoing clinical trials underway.

The symptoms of TNBC are like other breast cancers and may include but are not limited to: a lump or mass, skin changes, or changes in the size of the breast.   As with most cancers, TNBC tends to have a better prognosis with early detection, therefore, one should be sure to follow the suggested guideline screenings.  The American Society of Breast Surgeons recommends:

  • All Women age 25 and older should have a formal risk assessment for breast cancer.
  • Women with an average risk of breast cancer should start annual screening mammograms at age 40.
  • Women with a higher-than-average risk of breast cancer should start annual screening mammograms at an earlier age and should be offered additional imaging each year.

Because of the aggressiveness and fewer treatment options, TNBC represents an unmet need.  It’s essential that awareness is focused on the development of new technologies and treatment options for this subset of breast cancer.

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Additional Resources:

Triple Negative Breast Cancer Day

American Cancer Society

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